[The following contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Outlander. Read at your own risk!]
Rest in peace, Frank Randall. We hope your headstone reads, "Devoted husband and father. He deserved better."
Frank (Tobias Menzies) died in Sunday's episode of Outlander's third season, "All Debts Paid," after 18 years spent in a romantic-loveless marriage with Claire (Caitriona Balfe). Now that he's gone, it's time to address the fact that Frank has never really gotten a fair shake. He died mere hours after telling Claire that he was finally ready to create a happy life for himself, meaning he never got to see that dream realized while he was alive. Now, he's been a polarizing figure since the show began for reasons that were completely out of his control — his face, the memory of Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and Claire's desire to have it all — but it's time he got his due.
The series began with Frank and Claire on holiday attempting to reconnect and repair their marriage after spending years apart during World War II. He wanted to begin a family with her more than anything when she accidentally tumbled through the stones and found herself 200 years in the past. She went missing for three years, while Frank remained a dedicated husband who looked for her, refusing to believe the rumors that she had run off with another man. When she eventually resurfaced in her own timeline, Frank was there to welcome her back with open arms. But she wasn't as eager for a few reasons.
Claire was in the past for about five seconds when she encountered evil incarnate, Jonathan Wolverton "Black Jack" Randall. He shared the same face as her 20th-century husband but none of his niceties. The cruelty Black Jack showed Claire (and especially Jamie) during her time in the past was scarring and deep. Given the association, it's understandable Claire would struggle with being intimate with Frank after she returned to her original time — but it is also unfair to blame Frank for the actions of an ancestor he coincidentally bears a strong resemblance to. He's not Black Jack, not even close.
Of course, Black Jack isn't the only relic from the past that drove a wedge between Frank and Claire in the show's modern timeline. We are not trying to say that Frank's love trumps Jamie's, because that's ridiculous — of course Claire fell in love with the tall, strapping Scotsman that saved her life countless times. They fostered a love that was true and passionate and has literally stood the test of time — but Frank never stood a chance at reclaiming Claire's heart once she returned to him, thinking she had lost Jamie forever. He didn't believe that he ever could mean more to Claire than Jamie had, but he thought they could be content in their marriage, rebuild what they had started before she went through the stones, and make a good life out of it.
And this is where we get to Frank deserving more. For all of his faults — he was a little too obsessed with history in the beginning and struggled with his own pride — he tried to make things work. He really tried. He allowed Claire her time to grieve before moving their family to America. He allowed her to walk out if she could no longer oblige by their deal to move forward. When Claire and Jamie's daughter was born, he loved her as if she were his own. Frank might be as dashing or as passionate as Jamie had been, but he loved his wife and their daughter, and he was a good man. He would have given Claire anything she wanted, if she only asked, but the issue was that she didn't want him any longer, and he ended up being the one who was punished for it.
In Voyager, the third novel in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, Frank is much less sympathetic. He's staunchly against Claire going to medical school or finding a life for herself outside of the house. His adultery isn't part of a consensual agreement initiated by Claire. He's not discrete at all in the novels, and Claire abides them so as not to disrupt Brianna's happy home. The book version of Frank is also a little bit racist.
That's not the case with the series. Yes, Frank did eventually begin sleeping with other women — but it's only once Claire decides that they should lead separate personal lives, after she attempts to use Frank to soothe her Jamie-inspired loneliness. Claire knew that Frank would never be able to fill that void in her heart, but she let him continue to try for years. He loved his wife! Do you blame him for getting the hint she'd never love him back? He moved on but stayed in the house so as not to give up his relationship with Brianna. He put being a good father to her above everything else.
Despite the fact their daughter was a harsh, daily reminder of Jamie, Frank was the one who was able to put the Highlander aside to be the present parent Brianna needed. There's no doubt that Claire loves her daughter fiercely, but she let the ghost of Jamie get in the way of them having a close relationship for two decades. Claire wanted to keep up the charade to protect Brianna and Frank obliged so that he could stay close to Brie, but it was a trap he was never going to win.
And look, Frank wasn't a perfect man. Inviting his mistress to pick him up on the afternoon of Claire's medical school graduation was a real jerk move that embarrassed Claire and could have traumatized Brianna if he wasn't careful. However, he and Claire had had their arrangement for years by that point and one slip-up does little to say Frank was evil in light of the compromises and sacrifices he had made for his family up to that point.
So no, Frank wasn't perfect, but he deserved happiness just as much as Claire did. He earned it when he finally asked her for a divorce. He wasn't going to take Brianna away from Claire, either; the distance Claire had kept from her own daughter was going to be what drove her away. He wasn't a callous man trying to break his wife's heart more than it already was, but he had earned the right to live a life full of true love that was meant for him. He couldn't mend Claire's heart, and it's a tragedy he lost the chance to mend his own.
Frank Randall, if you're still close enough to hear, we loved you very much and we hope you find your happiness.
Outlander continues Sundays at 8/7c on Starz.